The GP of Benelux, held at the popular track of Lierop, is always a hit, as the bottomless sand plays host to excellent on-track action. Lierop strikes fear into the hearts of most – the Dutch sand is world-renowned for being tough on both rider, and machine. It is a mountainous task for the guys to overcome – some of the greatest riders have faltered in the Lierop sand.
If you watched Lierop on TV from the comfort of your own home, it is evident that the circuit gets really rough. But, until you have been there in person, you cannot appreciate how deep, and rutty the track gets. Strangely, I heard a couple of people complain that the circuit “does not have enough jumps” – isn’t that bizarre? Obviously, the deep sand is the defining feature of the circuit, as no amount of jumps could compare. Lierop is definitely one of the highlights of the season for me, because it is unique. Usually there are a handful of tracks on the MXGP calendar similar to Lierop, however it was the only extremely deep sand track this year.
Leirop is already a beast in itself – can you imagine how tough the track would be following a downpour that continued throughout Saturday night? The EMX125 and EMX250 guys had to deal with the most difficult circuit, as the Dutch sand was really wet for their final race of the year. When the MX2 riders went out for moto one, the damage was already done – however there was not as much standing water, which is certainly a plus. When the sand is wet, it just sticks to the riders, which makes goggle prep extremely difficult, as there isn’t really a way to combat the wet soil.
At Lierop, the promoters don’t have too many options, when it comes to changing the track, hence why it has stayed the same since the venue hosted the Motocross des Nations back in 2004, for the most part. Interestingly, a small change was made for this year though – a new finish line jump was added at the start of pit lane. The pit lane was also slightly repositioned, so that it led back to the first turn – the chicane that was previously positioned at the end of pit lane has been removed, as a result.
When I heard that it had been raining all-night long, I started to wonder if the wet conditions would favour Jeffrey Herlings, the sand master. Why? Well his shoulder was seemingly giving him problems, as it was very painful. However, following the downpour of rain, the track was nowhere near as fast – the pace was much slower. So Jeffrey would not be hitting the bumps as hard, and landing so heavy off of the jumps, which would really help his shoulder. Herlings said as much throughout the weekend, as he stated that he could rely on his technique. But I am sure that the second moto was more difficult for him, as the circuit was a lot rougher and faster.
On Sunday, there were a few factors going against Jeffrey Herlings, obviously. The Dutchman managed to keep his streak of victories at the venue alive, despite this, as he won both races for the thirteenth time this season. Obviously he was not as quick as he has been in the past, but he was more than fast enough, as he was unchallenged for the most part. It was the best way for him to conclude an astonishing year, as he won twenty-eight motos, and fifteen GPs, in total. I mean, at this point I have run out of positive things to say about him. Herlings does deserve props for his rides this season, despite the depleted field, as he has been incredible.
Although Stefan Everts was very against his decision to race the GP, you have to think that it was a good one. Obviously, he achieved everything that he wanted to, this past weekend, as he won the GP, and he did not disappoint the home crowd! Although Herlings will feel really sore tomorrow, I doubt that he done any further damage to his shoulder, fortunately.
Who knew that Dylan Ferrandis is a strong sand rider? I certainly did not expect him to finish in second overall, as he doesn’t seem like the type of rider that would excel in the deep sand of Lierop. However, he did exactly that! Quietly Ferrandis has come on strong recently, as he came very close to winning the British GP, as well. Dylan is evidently a well-rounded rider. So is it unreasonable to think that he could step up next year with a CLS Kawasaki beneath him? The Frenchman secured ninth in the series standings also, and he was one point down on his future teammate, Alessandro Lupino. Ferrandis has to be more consistent in the future; if he can do that he could be a revelation next year.
At Valkenswaard earlier this year, Jordi Tixier was really strong in the sand. But he seemed to be out of his depth at Lierop, despite finishing third overall. In both moto one and two, Tixier started up front. However, he quickly got shuffled back to the lower end of the top five. Jordi was fifth by the end of the first lap in moto two, but he recovered for fourth by the end. Was it a good year for him? I think it was. Although he was a clear-cut second in the standings, he was not the second best guy out on-track each week. So, I think that he has a lot of work to do before he can get near the level of his teammate.
Undoubtedly, Petar Petrov has been the most underrated rider in the MX2 series this year. I actually feel sorry for him; no one has taken notice of his great rides! It isn’t really surprising to see that he was strong at Lierop, as he has always been good in the sand. I remember the first time that he grabbed my attention was at Lommel in 2011 on a Van Beers Yamaha. So, I think of him as more of a sand specialist. In fact his second best result this year came at the GP of Latvia. So, he is actually a sand specialist! Overall, an eleventh in the standings is not a true representation of how much potential he has.
Like Ferrandis, I did not think that Romain Febvre would do too well at Lierop, because of his lack of experience. In fact he finished seventeenth overall at Lierop last year, so my thoughts were justified. The Frenchman finished fifth overall this past weekend – that proves just how much he has improved, since joining the JM Nestaan KTM team. Maybe you could argue that he only finished in the top five, because he was consistent on the day, as he was lucky to end up in fifth overall following a sixth and a seventh in the two motos. Evidently the next French riders in line (Ferrandis, Febvre etc.) are thriving at the moment.
Glenn Coldenhoff has had a really up and down season when it comes to luck. Unfortunately the black cloud that followed Glenn earlier in the year returned in the first race, as he had to deal with a mechanical issue, which jeopardised his spot in the championship. Fortunately, a strong second moto meant that he secured fifth in the standings, which was his primary goal heading into the weekend. Coldenhoff’s ride in the second moto might have been his best of the season, as he came relatively close to winning the first moto of his career; he finished up in a strong second.
Arnaud Tonus’ return to racing has gone quite well, I believe, despite the fact that his results have not been exceptional. At Matterley Basin and Lierop, the first races were disastrous for him – it was a crash that hurt him at Lierop, as he salvaged a twentieth. However the second moto was quite good for him, as he finished in sixth after staying in that position for the whole race. Evidently, his body is strong enough now – the fact that he managed to stick it out on the edge of the top five for forty minutes around Lierop indicates this. Tonus has to stay healthy during the winter, in my opinion, as he really has to build some momentum and redeem himself.
What happened to Jose Butron? The Spaniard imploded at the GP of Benelux, as he finished sixteenth overall, following a pair of fifteenths in the two motos. Initially, I thought that Jose finished in these lacklustre positions, because he struggles in the sand. But, he was strong at Valkenswaard, and Hyvinkää, so Butron is not awful when the soil gets soft. Perhaps it is just Lierop he doesn’t get along with? In 2012, he finished eighteenth overall there. Admittedly a few crashes hindered him this past weekend, as he went down on lap one in moto two – but he would usually get closer to the front of the pack than fifteenth. Overall, third in the series standings was a great result for the Spaniard, and one that he really wanted.
Honestly, I am still speechless. I can’t believe it – Shaun Simpson won the MX1 class! Wow, it came out of nowhere, didn’t it? Prior to Lierop, the best moto finish that Shaun had acquired this year was an eighth – he had finished in that spot five times throughout the year. Simpson finished second in the qualifying heat on Saturday, and topped the practice on Sunday morning. So, it was quite clear that he was feeling smooth, fast and confident. But, his performance was still a big upset. If I had told you at the start of the year that Tommy Searle wouldn’t finish on the overall podium at all in 2013, but Shaun Simpson would win a GP, would you have believed me? I am sure that most people would have called me crazy.
It is not like Shaun Simpson was handed the win, he had to push really hard in both race one and two. In the opening moto, the Scotsman worked his way up from fifth to the lead after a load of great passes. It seemed like Toni Cairoli was going to demote Shaun to second, at the end of moto one. But he held strong, and eventually took a sensational moto win. Shaun had previously won one other moto in his career, at Valkenswaard in 2009. So it has been a while since he has tasted the sweet taste of victory. Simpson looked set to repeat his race one win, when he got around Cairoli early on in moto two. But, a fall dropped him back to seventh.
Eventually, he worked his way back to third by the end, which was enough for him to secure his first overall win, as well as his first MX1 podium. Simply, it was the highlight of his career, no doubt about it! I am sure that this performance will help Simpson get a deal for next year, as he is currently trying to get one locked down.
Before the GP of Benelux on Sunday, Antonio Cairoli hadn’t lost a GP in the deep Dutch sand since 2009, hence why he is considered unbeatable on the surface by most. However, he did not top the podium this past weekend, as a fall and mechanical issue in moto one hurt him. I don’t think that there is any doubt that he was the fastest guy at Lierop. I mean, he had a fifty-three second lead by the end of the second moto, which is just remarkable; it was a great way for him to end another title winning season. Interestingly, Toni was on a 450f on Sunday, as he was helping his team with some testing on the bike. It is also worth noting that he has not won a GP since the Lausitzring in July, which is quite a draught for Toni, and one that will continue into the off-season.
Although the podium streak that Evgeny Bobryshev was on has ended, he had another good ride at Lierop, as he finished with a third and a fifth for fourth overall. It honestly looked like he got a bit tired towards the end of the motos. But, early on he was more than fast enough to contend. If Bobryshev could find a way to ride like this all-season long, he would certainly be a contender along with guys like Desalle and Paulin. But, he always has to face some kind of adversity, it seems, which is something he has to fix in the off-season. Bobryshev finished eighth in the standings; he could not do much better after missing some rounds with injury.
It is quite well known that Clement Desalle does not particularly enjoy the sand, which some would say is a bit odd, when you consider that he is from Belgium. Although he is somewhat of a hard pack specialist, you would think that a rider of his calibre could finish on the box at his least favourite GP, right? Well, the Rockstar Energy Suzuki rider struggled – he fell on the sighting lap, which tells you just how bad his day was. In the first moto, a few falls left him in twelfth. In race two he did a lot better, as he finished sixth, but he dropped like an anchor at the end. It seemed like his head was not in it, which was probably because of his disdain for the track.
So, there you have it – another season is done and dusted. In my opinion, the season ended in the best way possible, as I would call Lierop “the GP of the year”. Whilst some riders will now turn their heads to the Motocross des Nations, others will start resting up after a gruelling year of racing and travelling.
If you want to discuss the season, chuck me an email ([email protected]) or find me on Twitter (@LewisPhillips71)!
Words by Lewis Phillips